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Separation Of The Working And Middle Class Child

1695 words - 7 pages

In American society today, childhood is considered a time for learning, exploration, and a chance for a child to make his or her mark on the world. Leading up to the Great Depression, however, childhood for working class children was seen in a different light. Working class children felt pressure to provide for their family, which inhibited them from getting an education and branching out on their own, while middle class children had a greater prospect for education because of the difference in wealth. The Great Depression brought hard times for all Americans and expanded the working class while shrinking the middle class. Because the working class children held close ties and responsibilities to their families and faced more poverty than the middle class, they had a lesser chance to move out of the working class as they had a commitment to work to support their families, or children without families had to support themselves, and had dimmer opportunities for education.
In the Child Labor in the Carolinas, photos and depictions of children working in mills show how working class children did not have the opportunities to branch out and have a childhood as defined by today’s standards. Though the pamphlet creators may have been fighting for better standards for child labor in textile mills of the Carolinas, they simultaneously show how working class families depended on multiple members to support the family: in “Chester, South Carolina, an overseer told me frankly that manufacturers [in] all the South evaded the child labor law by letting youngsters who are under age help older brothers and sisters” (McElway, 11). Children were used because they were inexpensive labor and were taken advantage of in many ways because they were so young. A caption about a photograph of young boy too young to be working read: “Six years old. Stays all day in the mill where his mother and sister work. Is beginning to "help" a little and will probably soon be regularly at work, though his name may not appear on the payroll” (McElway, 8). Instead of being cared for and watched after like middle class children, young children with families working at the mills played and worked along the machinery in the mills because of the lack of a nursery, and through the influence of “helping” at the factory, the next generation is raised to become millworkers. Children who were orphaned had even less protection in the mill, because they were allowed to work at any age and had to support themselves. This environment filled with children working from extremely young ages, siblings who worked, and children who supported dependent parents, reinforced the feeling that they were stuck in the life of a mill worker.
Unlike families who supported themselves with children working at a mill or factory, Ragged Dick was an orphan who supported himself by working on the streets as a bootblack. In the beginning, Horatio Alger depicted Dick as a young boy born into poverty with no education...

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